New Will Co. Government Campus To Replace Torn Down Courthouse?

JOLIET, IL —Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant and her staff are working with new Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy and interim city manager Rod Tonelli to build a new Will County Government Campus on the site of the soon-to-be demolished old Will County Courthouse.

Demolition will start in August or September and that will take until the end of the year, Bertino remarked during Friday’s interview with Joliet Patch’s editor.

If things go according to plan, the Will County Government Office building on North Chicago Street, previously the old Sears department store, would move to the new government campus as would the Joliet City Hall.

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On Friday, Joliet Patch met with Bertino-Tarrant, plus a few members of her staff, as well as Tonelli and D’Arcy to discuss their ambitious government partnership plan.

Will County already has preliminary drawings of architectural renderings from Wight & Companyshowing what the new Will County Government would look like.

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Bertino expects it would be at least five or six stories tall. She also said the old Will County Courthouse, empty since October 2020, is being torn down later this summer, with demolition starting in August or September.

According to her and the others, downtown Joliet businessman Hudson Hollister and his group of preservations trying to save the old courthouse cannot stop the demolition from happening.

Bertino explained that the Will County Board voted in 2019 to demolish the old courthouse. When COVID and the pandemic hit in 2020, and the county “had to switch our priorities.

“The County Board already voted, so as of now, no, there is no (more) vote,” Bertino explained.

In the past, Will County officials had informal discussions about a government campus, but since Terry D’Arcy became the new mayor of Joliet, those talks have become more formal.

D’Arcy said he is seriously interested in moving the Joliet City Hall to the new Will County Government Campus once the old Will County Courthouse gets demolished.

D’Arcy does not support saving the old courthouse, which was built in 1969 and has remained empty since the new 10-story courthouse opened next door, in October 2020.

“I definitely think it’s something we have to look at,” D’Arcy said of partnering with Bertino and Will County to create a Will County Government Campus in the middle of downtown Joliet. “The idea of a government campus makes sense in a growing county and community.”

Right now, Will County has about 700,000 residents and Joliet, the third-largest city in Illinois, has more than 150,00 citizens. In the coming years, D’Arcy said Joliet will reach 200,000 citizens, so it’s important Joliet, as the county seat, develop a long-range comprehensive plan that is proactive and not reactive in terms of its continuing population growth.

“The idea of a government campus does make sense in a growing county and community,” D’Arcy said.

As for Will County, its government offices building remain at the former Sears department store, which was built in 1947. The county has occupied it since the 1980s.

Joliet City Hall property was built in 1968 when Joliet was a city of 75,000, according to Tonelli. Nowadays, Joliet’s doubled in size and the city is renting property from John Bays at the Two Rialto Square Building for the public utilities department, and now the water department is looking for more space, Tonelli and D’Arcy pointed out.

“It would really help all customers have a campus for the city and county to go to,” D’Arcy said. “This is really a starting part.”

Bertino said the old Will County Courthouse demolition is going to start in August or September at the latest, and the demolition and debris removal should take until the year’s end.

As for creation of a new Will County Government Campus, Bertino said there still needs to be an assessment done regarding the department for the county and Joliet.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Bertino said of the new Will County Government Campus.

“We have to do a lot of homework,” D’Arcy agreed.

The facility needs studies for both governments could take about a year, she said.

Still, “my goal is to make government services compact. Right now, there are three different stops for a building permit,” Bertino said.

D’Arcy said he’s like to see the project built during his tenure as mayor during these next four years.

Bertino said that Will County taxpayers are now spending more than $1 million per year for leasing government office space from rental properties throughout the county.

The new government campus would address that.

“We’d like to bring them all into one roof,” she said of the rental properties.

D’Arcy thinks the idea of a government campus at the former courthouse site is a great opportunity for both Will County and Joliet.

“We’re a train station away from the city of Chicago,” he said.

One of his goals, as mayor, is to develop Joliet’s downtown to attract more residents. He also wants to attract more and more “reverse commuters.”

Hudson Hollister’s ongoing efforts to save the old courthouse and convert it into a private-public partnership simply does not work, the city and county leaders said Friday.

“It’s very clear we cannot sell the property to a private entity,” D’Arcy said. “It’s deed-restricted.”

On the other hand, the old courthouse site presents a great redevelopment opportunity for Joliet’s downtown, the new mayor said.

Tearing it down and putting a new state-of-the-art building on the site would be a tremendous opportunity, he noted.

“That’s a real important part of our DNA, our cloth, and we want to make sure the highest and best use is there,” D’Arcy said.

At this stage, it’s too premature to throw out numbers as far as what the new Will County Government Campus would cost to build or the funding source, Bertino said.

However, Bertino and D’Arcy gave no indication they want to raise the property taxes of the citizens to make this ambitious, multi-million dollar construction project into a reality.

“We don’t want to tax anybody any more than we already are,” D’Arcy said.

Bertino wanted to make two key points that she thinks many citizens are unaware of in regard to the fate of the old Will County Courthouse.

“Repurposing the old courthouse does not meet our needs and two, it’s not being turned into a parking lot,” Bertino emphasized. “That’s not the goal.”

She believes most Will County and Joliet residents will embrace the idea of a Will County Government Campus, perhaps including a new Joliet City Hall, as their talks move ahead in the weeks and months ahead.

“I think any type of partnership is well-received,” Bertino remarked. “I think Terry and I are real conscientious of good use of taxpayer dollars.”

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Earlier this month, Joliet Patch reached out to Hollister, who is founder of the technology company HData, for comment about the old courthouse property after informing him that outgoing city manager Jim Capparelli supported the idea of demolishing the old Will County Courthouse and building a new city-county building on the site.

“To tear down our old courthouse building would unnecessarily sacrifice an asset that at least six developers are interested in investing private funds to restore as a mixed-use community destination,” Hollister responded. “The city and county should instead build a new city-county building on the empty block immediately to the east across Chicago Street, served by abundant parking in the little-used commuter lots just south.”

D’Arcy maintains that Bertino’s concept design plan may be the best approach for Joliet.

“With all due to respect to the preservationists, they’ve worked really hard to try to find a savior for this building, but they haven’t been able to produce a check writer,” D’Arcy said.

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